Toronto’s deputy police chief is warning war protesters to be respectful in the days leading up to Christmas

Toronto Police Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue discusses police response to demonstrations in the city, Dec. 22, 2023.

Toronto police say that protests inside malls or that block highways will not be tolerated on the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

“We are seeing an increase by a very small number who are protesting with more antagonistic behaviour, certainly challenging our police officers as well, so our expectation is that we will facilitate lawful protest but we expect everybody to be respectful and to respect our officers,” Toronto deputy police chief Lauren Pogue said at a news conference on Dec. 22.

Toronto has seen about 250 demonstrations since Oct. 7, the “vast majority” of which have been lawful, Pogue said.

Police have said they are investigating an incident at the CF Toronto Eaton Centre on Dec. 18 when a masked man at a pro-Palestinian demonstration was heard threatening to put someone “six feet deep.”

In that instance, the threat was not directed at a police officer, Pogue said. “Our officers were using best judgement in de-escalating that situation,” she said.

It’s a “very, very busy time with shoppers, there’s a ton of people in the malls, the last thing we want to do is create a situation where somebody may get hurt,” Pogue said. “So, when you do see criminal behaviour, we don’t always make an arrest at the time, but we certainly gather the evidence that we need to follow up afterward, investigate and lay charges where appropriate.”

Pro-Palestinian protests have been planned for bridges and highway overpasses throughout the Toronto area as well as at Yonge-Dundas Square downtown this weekend, according to posts on social media.

Lawful demonstrations do not include protesting inside private spaces, such as malls, blocking “critical infrastructure such as highways or hospitals or causing disturbances to other residents or visitors of our city,” Pogue said. “And it certainly does not include the intimidation, harassment or hateful behaviour.”

Police will enforce the Trespass to Property Act to give people an opportunity to leave a private space when they’re asked, otherwise they could be arrested.

The ongoing demonstrations have required police to redeploy officers, including calling on traffic services, instructors at the police college and investigators to keep the peace, Pogue said.

Toronto has seen a staggering increase in reported hate crimes since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacks on Israel killed over 1,200 people and triggered a war in Gaza.

More than half of the hate-crime occurrences reported in the past two-and-a-half months have been antisemitic, Police Chief Myron Demkiw reported to the Police Services Board on Dec. 19.  

During that period, 98 hate crimes have been reported, 56 of which have been antisemitic and 20 have been classified as anti-Muslim/Arab/Palestinian. The hate crime unit has made 43 arrests and laid 96 charges since Oct. 7.

Hate crimes have increased by 41 percent this year, with 338 crimes reported from Jan. 1 to Dec. 17, compared to the 2022 when 239 crimes were reported.